McIlroy among Dubai leaders; Woods one back
Dubai Desert Classic
Images from the Dubai Desert Classic, played Feb. 10-13 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Tiger Woods is bidding to end his drought in the desert.
The former world No. 1 is one shot off the lead going into Sunday’s final round of the Dubai Desert Classic, rallying from a disastrous start with an eagle and three birdies on the back nine for a par 72 in windy conditions Saturday.
“The fact I was able to battle from 4-over par and put myself with a chance going into tomorrow, I’m proud of that,” Woods said. “Hopefully, I can build on that.”
He finished the third round at 7-under 209, in a seven-way tie for fourth behind co-leaders Rory McIlroy (75), Anders Hansen (71) and Thomas Aiken (74).
Woods showed some of the resilience that recently has been lacking from his game on a dusty day in the desert during which the wind reached 28 mph.
After a double bogey at No. 9 left Woods at 4-over 39, he started his surge with an eagle on the par-5 10th and followed with a birdie on No. 11. He closed with birdies on Nos. 15 and 18 sandwiched around a bogey on 16.
“I just had to stay patient,” he said. “I made two mistakes with two bad swings at 8 and 9 that cost me four shots right there. I had three par 5s and 17 drivable.
“So I figured the back nine, I could make up some ground and hope the leaders did not pull away.”
Woods’ last victory came at the Australian Masters in November 2009, which was just before the Thanksgiving night car accident that derailed his run as the world’s top golfer.
He is now No. 3 in the rankings behind Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. The top-ranked Westwood was tied for 13th at 5-under, while Kaymer was eight shots off the lead after a 76.
Westwood could lose the top ranking if Kaymer wins and he finishes lower than second, and if Kaymer finishes second and Westwood is out of the top 10.
Woods is fortunate to be in contention thanks to the tough conditions taking a toll on most of the top players. McIlroy finished at 3 over and Sergio Garcia – eight shots ahead of Woods after nine holes – finished with a 75, and was among those tied with Woods.
Woods had an eagle, four birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey.
He started with bogeys on the first two holes, mostly from errant drives that went well left of the fairway. He pulled a shot back on the third with a birdie. But he bogeyed the eighth and ended up with double bogey on No. 9 after his approach got caught up in the wind, dropping just short of the green and rolling into the water.
Woods chipped in from 35 feet for his eagle at the 10th. He followed that with a birdie that seemed to settle him down. But after running off several pars, his putting woes returned with a bogey on No. 16 – prompting Woods to swear before ending with “Come on Tiger.”
He pulled out all the stops on the par-4 17, driving to the back edge of the green on the 359-yard hole. But his chip ran past the hole and he missed an easy birdie putt.
He played cautiously on the 18th, choosing to lay up rather than drive the green. It paid off when he managed to curl in a 30-foot putt, prompting a fist pump as the gallery cheered.
Woods won in Dubai in 2006 and 2008.
McIlroy, who won his only European Tour event here in 2009, also had a dreadful start on a day when about two-thirds of the field didn’t break par. He had three straight bogeys to hand the lead to Garcia, including a drive on the second that landed in sandy scrub and one on the third that ended in the bunker.
Like Woods, McIlroy was able to turn his game around on the back nine with a birdie and a string of pars.
“There’s been a few rounds that I let get away from me ... and I didn’t let that happen today which was a positive sign,” McIlroy said. “And I’m still, you know in the lead, tied for the lead ... I’m still in there with a great chance.”
Garcia had the most dramatic change of fortunes. After opening with a bogey, the Spaniard made a run with two birdies over his next four holes to take sole possession of the lead.
But he fell apart on the back nine, with two bogeys and then a double bogey on the 17th after his drive hit a tree and he had to drop a ball. That handed the lead back to McIlroy and the others.
Garcia said his failure to hold the lead was “unfortunate,” but insisted he played as well as he could in the conditions.
“I didn’t play the back nine that badly. I hit a couple of bad shots, but I was holding it nicely,” Garcia said.